12 October 2005

up the middle (and shovel passes)

Cris Carter on Yahoo sports, discussing the fortunes of the New England Patriots, discusses strength (actually, weakness) up the middle, and attributes it to baseball.

Do they still have a great team on paper? Of course, they do. But just like in baseball, a team becomes vulnerable when it gets weak up the middle – in the NFL that means interior linemen, linebackers and safeties. It will be very tough for New England to win it all again without linebackers Teddy Bruschi and Ted Johnson and maybe Harrison, who suffered a serious leg injury in Sunday's win at Pittsburgh.

In the sporting world's lexicon, baseball seems to be the most typical source of terminology that jumps from one sport to another, although it would take some archival research to confirm this trajectory for "up the middle". Still, we can add this to the list of phrases that pass from baseball elsewhere, such as the batting terminology and untracked.

Regardless, this makes three sports that use it: baseball, football, and hockey, fundamentally different games in which the phrase refers to very different positions. In baseball, "up the middle" refers to the pitching and catching staff; in hockey, to the center and goaltender. It's odd that the phrase would diffuse in this way with such divergent reference.

I think that it has done so because it sounds like a really technical but simple way of evaluating a team. When you say "You've got to have strength up the middle" it sounds like you know what you're talking about. In reality, to win a championship, a team needs to be strong at every position, regardless of the sport. But "You've got to have strength everywhere" sounds less informed, or perhaps just more obvious.

Another noteworthy football tidbit is the lexicon of passing. A while back we were watching Oakland vs Philadelphia, in which Donavan McNabb issued a scoring pass to Brian Westbrook. I exclaimed, ooh! fleaflicker! But the commentator described it as a shovel pass, which Robin heard as "shuttle pass". The game summary settles on shovel: A 62-yard pass to Westbrook set up Westbrook's 5-yard TD catch on a shovel pass that made it 20-10 late in the third period. Both "shuttle pass" and "shovel pass" show up online, but I can't tell if they refer to different types of passes. I still think the pass I saw was a fleaflicker, because it was with one arm, and would have guessed a shovel pass takes two. While I'm on it, maybe I should start watching for shuttles and shovels in other sports.

[update 9/10/06: more on shovel passes here]


At Sun Jan 03, 07:32:00 AM 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think a shuttle pass is a more general screen pass (and can be over-handed), while a shovel pass is an under-handed "shoveling" motion to the running back. They can both look very similar

A flea flicker is an entirely different play. This is when the quarterback laterally passes to the running back who pretends to run to one side, then laterally throws it back across the backfield to the QB who throws it forward to a deep man down field.

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